Over the last decade — and certainly the last year — a baffling conundrum has developed: We have more ways and platforms to talk to each other than ever, yet the world seems to be suffering from a communication breakdown.
Misinformation, cyberbullying and trolling are creating a toxic digital environment that leads many to decide it’s not worth the risk to engage in online conversations. Often this allows loud, extreme voices — that may or may not be bots — to rule the comments section.
Former U.K. radio and TV host Jennifer Dyer saw the solution: Take away anonymity.
She and partner Kiaran Sim created Yappa, a tool for online publishers where comments are posted in video or audio form. In other words, it’s unapologetically you. Dyer says recording comments rather than typing them changes behavior. “We are more responsible with our voices,” she says. “We’re not going to be so ugly and unkind because it’s your voice, it’s your face. There’s a level of accountability and responsibility by just simply being human.”
Trying to restore order to what Dyer describes as “the wild, wild West” of unregulated internet interactions has attracted clients who deliver news in areas known for passionate discourse: celebrity, entertainment and politics. Nastiness, personal attacks and misinformation in traditional, text-based comments have put online publishers in an uncomfortable position. Do they regulate and potentially censor? Do they step back and let “free speech” run amok and allow hate a home on their platforms? Or do they just shut down their comments section altogether?
Yappa has found recorded messages — or “yaps” — are something of a cure. “We have approximately a less than 0.2% flag rate on Yappa. We’re really not getting unkind or vile comments,” the former broadcast personality says, indicating that when people are putting their voice and image with their opinions, there’s a psychological shift. “You can’t fake your voice on Yappa, you can’t put up another image of your face. You’ve got to be you, and that’s what Yappa’s mission is: for people to be able to feel comfortable in having really tough conversations sometimes.”
Entrepreneur Daymond John, who utilized Yappa for the annual global streaming event Black Entrepreneurs Day, says, “It’s really easy to be a critic, even more so when you don’t have to be brave enough to put your name or likeness to your comment. Yappa’s integration allows brands to foster thoughtful conversation, which, in turn, allows marginalized voices a safe space to participate.”
The technology may even sap the power of misinformation on a few fronts: empowering a broader representation, hearing tone and inflection, and not allowing cover for bots and trolls. Dyer says, “If you could physically hear the views of what people are feeling, what they’re seeing, what they’re experiencing as all of this misinformation is going around, I think there’ll be more of a unified response that will be directed toward the people that are instigating misinformation.”
Beyond creating an environment to have better conversations and building community among site users, Yappa allows publishers to develop more meaningful relationships. For instance, publishers can permit Guest Yappers, such as the reporter behind an article, to start the conversation, giving context to the story and humanizing an otherwise flat piece of information.
Publishers can respond with their own “yap,” creating two-way communication between a site and its readership. “Yappa, in all of its forms, is allowing users and publishers a way to create a community of talkers, not bots,” says Dyer. “Real humans, real connections increase retention on the websites, allowing for there to be this community of interaction happening right there on your dot-com.”
This direct, interactive relationship with the target audience is a benefit radio has realized for a long time, as it is one of the few sources of entertainment that still offers real-time feedback from callers. Leading contemporary programs such as iHeart Radio’s “On Air With Ryan Seacrest” know firsthand the value of connecting with listeners and continuing the conversation, both on and off-air. Yappa’s advanced moderation technology allows the commentary to be screened before being integrated into the programming, allowing a win-win solution for audiences to be heard and for networks to be reassured that their content guidelines are upheld. In radio, calls drive more calls; similarly, online conversation drives more conversation. Both mediums require moderation, with Yappa’s AI machine learning capabilities offering a sophisticated solution that puts confidence back into public commentary.
“This one tool moves seamlessly into radio and TV,” Dyer says. “Yaps created on your site are downloadable for sharing, which is so gorgeously important, and downloadable for repurposing for live broadcast, which is how it was utilized for Black Entrepreneurs Day.”
John says the primetime live broadcast event was created as an efficient and satisfying way he and his partners could provide guidance to aspiring minority businesspeople. “Working with Yappa for Black Entrepreneurs Day added an extra element of excitement and connectivity that added another layer to the event,” he says. “I was able to connect with fans and budding businesspeople on the conversational tool. It was a turnkey solution.”
It also won him two Webby Awards. Medium Rare, a production company behind that experience, has found tapping into the widget is creating a more fulfilling experience for live events, allowing for viewers to “attend” events from home. “We came across Yappa organically during a digital concert event,” says Medium Rare co-founder Joe Silberzweig. “We saw the all-new way viewers were interacting on the platform, and we knew it would be a perfect way to increase engagement on our upcoming livestream show: ‘Shaq vs Gronk.’ Not only did Yappa help us increase engagement on the show through both celebrity and organic conversation, it also served as a utility allowing fans to tell Shaquille O’Neal and Rob Gronkowski what type of basketball shots to take in their one-on-one competition.”
For Dyer, she sees that possibilities are endless with a little human connection. Using the Golden Rule as the community’s core value, she’s witnessed Yappa bringing back empathy, which, in turn, is bringing others back to having the confidence to engage. “We’ve invested so much around moderation, making sure that the platform is safe and trusted,” says Dyer. “‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ We are committed to making Yappa a platform that others know is trusted and kind.”